By now you should be familiar with the ACCA examiner’s reports. Hopefully very familiar as they’re incredibly valuable. They’re the closest thing most students will get to a conversation with the examiner, and they tell you exactly what the examiners want to see. And what they don’t.

They’re especially vital if you’re starting the professional papers with exemptions at fundamental level. Students in this situation are often caught out when they realise professional level is a big step-up and relies on a lot of background knowledge.

So we’re going to pull out the highlights of each report here for you, and you can also see the further tutor video review of each on the LearnSignal website. If you’re not a LearnSignal member you can get your free trial here, to see the videos.

You can also read the full reports on the ACCA global site.

Professional Level December 2017: General Advice from the Examiners

Let’s start with the general points the examiners made across every paper from P1 to P7. Then we’ll go into detail on each.

  • Length alone doesn’t predicate success. Different skills are being tested in the professional papers – an answer that goes into several pages (or indeed workbooks) does not guarantee success.
  • Professional marks are really important. You’re coming across professional marks for the first time in these papers. The amount awarded might seem small (although not for SBL come September 2018) but getting marks for professional work means the examiner is more likely to award marks for the content. The two really do go hand in hand.
  • Study the whole syllabus. We say this every time, about every paper. Question-spotting is not a good tactic. You’re taking a huge risk, and it’s very likely that it won’t pay off. Make sure you understand all the topics; not just a few in loads of detail. If that’s an issue, give yourself longer to study.
  • Give yourself time to think and plan. Especially at professional level, you really need to think through your answers and plan each before starting writing. Even if you’re under time pressure – this technique will actually save you time, because you’ll be able to focus on what’s important rather than wasting time writing everything you know. Which brings us to our next point…
  • Don’t write everything you know! These papers are testing you heavily on your ability to apply knowledge, which means the ability to be selective. Simply writing everything you remember about a topic won’t earn you a pass; being specific, and tailoring your answer with applied knowledge will.

Professional Level December 2017: A closer look at each exam

Let’s look at the specific papers. It’s no exaggeration to say the following recommendations are the difference between a pass and a fail, so read them carefully!

First the essentials.

ACCA P1 Governance, Risk & Ethics

December 2017 pass rate 51%

ACCA P1

The examiner was happy with students’ overall performance here, and felt it was a fair paper. Which should tell you how challenging the professional exams are. Only 51% passed, and the examiner felt that was a very good pass rate.

The examining team specifically pulls out the major change between the fundamental and professional papers here. Being the first professional paper many students will take, it is a considerable step up. Being able to write concisely is a big advantage in all the professional papers – writing loads will not guarantee you marks, and often just wastes time.

Also remember those professional marks. You might think they’re only a small amount but professional work often leads to higher marks on the knowledge sections.

It’s about the impression you give examiners – are you a great student who really knows your stuff, or are you chaotic, messy and unprofessional – and therefore less likely to know the material?

ACCA P2 Corporate Reporting

December 2017 pass rate 52%

ACCA P2

The examining team highlight that the ACCA P2 exam is assessed using a principles-based approach. Candidates must demonstrate throughout that they understand the concepts, theories and principles and have an ability to apply to real-life scenarios. That word, apply, crops up a lot: take note!

In relation to ethics you need to be aware of the regular professional and moral judgements that an accountant will face. Quoting guidance will not lead to a pass mark – knowing how to apply that guidance is crucial.

This exam is not only about the numbers. If your answers accompanying a numerical question are too brief you are unlikely to be successful in this exam.

ACCA P3 Business Analysis

December 2017 pass rate 56%

ACCA P3

This paper has the highest pass rate in the first three professional papers. In fact it has the highest pass rate of all the professional papers.

One of the reasons for this success is that students appear to manage their time well. However, do be aware that question 1 is worth 50 marks. Don’t be tempted to over-answer, to the detriment of your other responses.

Some comments across all questions seem to suggest again that students are answering the calculations well but not doing well with answering scenario type questions. This is an area you can improve easily if you do lots of practice questions.

And now, the options papers.

Not to scare you but be aware that these are some of the toughest exams you will take and the pass rates don’t lie!

ACCA P4 Advanced Financial Management

December 2017 pass rate 33%

ACCA P4

A 33% pass rate – and that’s not even the lowest amongst the options!

A key point from the examiner: at this advanced stage you’re expected to read and quickly digest comprehensive and detailed questions and apply relevant knowledge and skills. The examiner is also expecting professional judgement akin to that of a financial advisor.

You must be able to relate any calculations you complete to advice you’re giving the company. Calculations should support your answer; they’re not your main answer. This is widely misunderstood.

The examiners also observe that answers should be both professional and succinct. This means no bullet point answers or half sentences. Plus the usual suspects of poor time management (including writing too much for some questions and running out of time for others) and reading the question properly. Mis-reading is a silly – and totally avoidable – mistake.

ACCA P5 Advanced Performance Management

December 2017 pass rate 29%

ACCA P5

7 in 10 students failed this paper in December. Which doesn’t have to be the case. This paper is difficult, yes, but it’s also totally passable.

The main issues here were a lack of proper analysis. This paper is post-graduate level and clearly targets analysis over memory. Students wasted time defining the ‘jargon’ in the question which misses the main point; to analyse the question.

Your answer is dependent on the situation and environment described in the question, which you then apply your technical knowledge to. Those students who went in with this mind-set were the group that passed the paper.

On the upside, for once time management wasn’t much of an issue for this paper.

ACCA P6 Advanced Taxation (UK)

December 2017 pass rate 36%

ACCA P6

We’ve given advice before, to stay away from this paper is tax isn’t your thing. The examiner continually raises this issue, noting that students often didn’t perform well because they simply lacked knowledge (and one assumes, passion or even interest) in the subject.

You can’t pass P6 if you don’t know much about, enjoy or have experience in tax.

Most of the other advice here is covered in our general points at the top of this article. The main specific advice is to:

  • Identify your weaker areas and work to improve them
  • Include the technical areas from F6
  • Read the technical articles on P6

ACCA P7 Advanced Audit and Assurance

December 2017 pass rate 35%

ACCA P7

The first thing the examiner highlights is the assumed knowledge from F8 and P2. If you’re not up-to-scratch with those areas, go back and refresh your knowledge here.

The examiner also points out a common mistake where students used outdated terminology. Make sure you’re studying the most recent material, and stay updated with recent changes.

Time pressure didn’t appear a big problem for this paper, but students did tend to answer questions based on previous practice questions rather than the requirements in front of them. Again, answer the question you see, not the question you want.

As with other papers, lack of succinctness was an issue. Practice giving succinct answers by doing – with lots of practice questions – and not just reading somebody else’s answers.

A real positive for this paper. The examiner observed there was a real drop in the number of theoretical answers, with more students relating back to the scenario. Great.

Conclusion

So there you are: some important do’s and don’ts for your next exam sitting. You can’t control what comes up, or what happens on the day of your exam. But you can make sure you’re one of those people that’s listened to the examiners.

The examiners can tell when you’ve read their reports and are trying to take their advice on board. And that will only increase your chances of passing the exam.

Remember, if you’re a LearnSignal member you can get 24/7 support from dedicated ACCA tutors if you’ve got any further questions. Or if you’re not a LearnSignal member yet, get your free trial here.